“I’m testing a system in which I have two 26-inch rows on a 60-inch bed, with 34 inches between rows where the wheels run. My John Deere 9400 combine also fits this placement, so with RTK all equipment tracks are the same from year to year and there’s never any compaction in the bedded areas. If I put spacers on my John Deere 9965 cotton picker, it would also fit this pattern, but I may trade pickers before I plant cotton again. My goal is to never have a wheel track on a bed.”

Keith says he’s looked into adding irrigation on some of his land, “But I’ve felt there were other improvements that I could make, at less cost, to boost yield. Long term, I expect I will add some irrigation. I’m told I’d have to go about 1,000 feet to get adequate water volume, so I’m considering building reservoirs to collect water for irrigation, perhaps a drip system.”

While there has been some documented Italian ryegrass resistance in the area, Keith says he has had no issues with it. “One year, on about 5 acres of a 120 acre field, I had some marestail and pigweed that survived burndown. I tilled the spot, planted LibertyLink soybeans and made two Liberty applications after planting. Control was excellent.

“I’ve been overlapping residuals in my burndown program, following the recommendations of Dr. Tom Eubank at the Delta Research and Extension Center. I do a fall burndown with Valor or LeadOff, and if I need to follow with any spring burndown prior to planting, I’ll add Canopy to Roundup; if not, I’ll add First Rate to the first over-the-top application.

“Since I’ve added a scout, I’ve had no real problems with insects, and I’ve probably sprayed less than 200 acres. This year’s wheat crop has been scouted for disease, but thus far none has been found. With any crop, I spray now only if the scout says to do so.

“As intense as I am about hands-on management, I had been doing my own crop scouting for 10 years. But I increasingly found that I needed more expertise, and that I could better utilize my time elsewhere. Southern Ag Consulting, which offers a broad range of services and expertise, now does my scouting. They also take my soil sampling data and develop prescriptions for variable rate fertility programs. And they maintain all my data and crop information in a central location for any kind of analyses I need, and for use in obtaining crop insurance.

“This has resulted in a significant time savings for me,” Keith says, “and has added a new level of efficiency to my management program. In farming, I’ve learned that timeliness is one of the most important factors in crop success, so I’ve sought out custom applicators and other custom services, looking for people who can do what I want done the way I want it done. Mid-South Co-op at Bolivar, Tenn., and Jimmy Sanders, Inc., at Ecru, Miss., do that — they pay attention to what they’re doing, and they do it right.

“This allows me to focus on what I need to be doing at critical times in the season. A neighbor, Matt Ormon, who has a larger combine and doesn’t grow wheat, helps me with wheat harvest, which allows me to be on the planter to get soybeans in the ground as quickly as possible behind the wheat.”

Keith says he stores none of his grain. “Everything is trucked out as soon as it’s harvested. I forward contract through ADM at Memphis and deliver at harvest.”

At last December’s Mississippi State University Row Crop Short Course, he says, “I heard a presentation by Mark Gold of Top Third Ag Marketing on the use of put options as part of a crops marketing strategy. A light bulb went off in my head — for the first time, I had an understanding of how this tool can work to help limit risk and insure profit whichever way the market turns.

“Their specialists helped me to develop a plan that allows me to market my expected full production without having to deliver 100 percent. I set up an account with them and I now have my 2013 production that isn’t forward contracted protected with put options. I can follow how things are going in real time on my computer or smart phone and see how it’s protecting me. It has given me a lot of peace of mind and allowed me to focus more on production.”